In media appearances and talks with investors, Pfizer’s chief executive nearly always mentions a word that most of his competitors shy away from: October. “Right now, our model — our best case — predicts that we will have an answer by the end of October,” Dr. Albert Bourla told the “Today” show this month.
His statements have put his company squarely in the sights of President Trump, who has made no secret of his desire for positive vaccine news to boost his chances on Election Day.
By repeating a date that flies in the face of most scientific predictions, Dr. Bourla is making a high-stakes gamble. If Pfizer puts out a vaccine before it has been thoroughly tested — something the company has pledged it will not do — it could pose a major threat to public safety. But if Americans see the vaccine as having been rushed in order to placate Mr. Trump, many may refuse to get the shot.
But “an answer by the end of October” is not the same as having a vaccine then.
When Dr. Bourla referred to a “conclusive readout” next month, a company spokeswoman said, he meant that it’s possible the outside board of experts monitoring the trial would have by that date found promising signs that the vaccine works.
In public interviews, government health officials have refuted the October date. Both Dr. Moncef Slaoui, the chief scientific adviser to Operation Warp Speed, the federal effort that has awarded billions of dollars to vaccine makers, and Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease doctor, have said October was unlikely.
Pfizer’s leading competitors in the vaccine race, Moderna and AstraZeneca, have been more vague about timing, saying they expect something before the end of the year. In a recent interview, Moderna’s chief executive, Stéphane Bancel, said: “October is possible, because very few things in life are impossible.” The better word, he said, is “unlikely.”